Bimbo Banter

Why Brian Williams Should Keep His Job

  • Crisis
  • February 9, 2015
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Brian Williams has allowed a good story to engulf the truth. I’ve got personal experience with this myself. As President Reagan’s Director of Media Relations, I tell stories about him and my time in the White House to illustrate my speeches. There are serious points about the importance of communication, and also humorous ones to keep people laughing and paying attention.

I have – or had – a great story about the White House Thanksgiving turkey, and I used it to set up discussions about managing crisis by saying that my time at the White House was one turkey after another. There’s only one problem: it’s actually a number of stories pieced together. I realized that if anyone were to ask me if it was true, I would have to say no. I retired the story before anyone asked.

While Brian Williams is undoubtedly painfully embarrassed by the controversy over the false story he repeatedly told about flying in a helicopter that came under fire in Iraq in 2003, he has actually had a vivid reminder of why reporters should always have a healthy dose of skepticism and ask the tough questions. I’m convinced it could make him a better reporter.

The media has evolved into an echo chamber for politicians and special interests, and it’s been going on for years. Secretary Kerry used to tell a riveting story about how, as a young lieutenant in Vietnam, he was entrusted with a CIA mission in enemy territory. Reporters never pressed him about whether a lieutenant who had been on the job for just a few months would be entrusted with such a sensitive—not to mention illegal—mission.

President Obama presented his State of the Union speech with a laundry list of new programs and spending, all to be financed with new taxes on “the rich.” What does he mean by “the rich?” If the anchor of NBC news were to ask this question, it would change why the issue is being debated. We’d see a renewal of journalistic integrity in pushing politicians to answer the tough questions and not rely on assumptions. 

Brian – come back! And let this experience infuse your reporting and your management of NBC news with some much needed skepticism.

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